(First posted at RealGM)
It’s hard to believe Trae Young was only the 23rd-ranked prospect in the 2017 high school class.
The six-foot-three lead guard is taking college basketball by storm, as he’s averaged 35.5 points per 40 minutes on 62% true-shooting and assisted on 55.6% of Oklahoma’s scores over his 494 minutes so far this season.
Young is an exceptional shooter who has shown a lightning-quick trigger and deep range on pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll. Someone with that skill-set is probably the number one asset for an NBA offense these days, as he is able to stress defenses from the moment he crosses half-court.
And yet, that’s not all the 19-year-old does. Young has also shown the ability to break down the defense off the bounce with one of the most advanced packages of dribble moves you will ever see from someone his age. Though he is not an athletic marvel and has been a subpar finisher on live-ball attempts in college, Young has lived at the foul line and proven himself a very good passer on the move.
It must always be pointed out Young is in the very best position to succeed as well. Oklahoma runs a fast-paced pro-style offense that emphasizes floor spacing. The Sooners have a stretch big in the game for 37 of the 40 minutes and constantly have that player (usually Brady Manek) set picks for Young in order to create an opening at the point of attack.
Oklahoma has also been sensitive to his limitations on the other end. The freshman is a poor individual defender at this point of his development, so the Sooners have hidden him off the ball and switched somewhat aggressively on flare screens at the top in order to always try maintaining Young a weak-side defender, where he’s actually carried his weight executing the scheme and showcasing good instincts making plays in the passing lanes.
His biggest impact in the game right now is through his pull-up shooting. Young can take and make shots from deep range, as he is able to stop on a dime and elevate in a pinch. He has proven himself able to make step-back and side-step three-pointers in isolation but is most effective taking stop-and-pop three-pointers out of the pick-and-roll.
His shot selection is questionable at times but Young has nailed 38.9% of his 149 three-point shots, with two thirds of his makes unassisted, at a remarkable pace of 12.1 three-point attempts per 40 minutes. He’s also hit 85.1% of his 148 foul shots.
Young doesn’t do much coming off screens, given Oklahoma doesn’t have another ball-handler of his caliber to run offense, so it’s unclear how good he could be working the second side. But he can provide gravity as a floor-spacer as well, as he has 18 assisted three-pointers in 15 appearances.
Young has a collection of dribble moves to get into the lane. He is quick but not really a speed demon with the ball, so he relies on his craftiness splitting double teams at the point of attack or getting by his defender in isolation.
Young uses hesitation moves, crossovers, in-and-out dribbles, step-throughs and hang dribbles to work his man out of position and drives with his left hand enough to keep the defense honest too.
The 180-pounder is not an explosive leaper off one foot in traffic and can’t attack the basket with much power. Though he is flexible enough to adjust his body in the air, Young lacks length to score around rim protectors on reverses and extended finishes – converting just 53.7% of his 95 shots at the rim.
But he has shown to be a savvy player seeking contact among the trees and stopping his momentum to draw collisions with defenders trailing him – averaging 12 free throws per 40 minutes.
He also has a righty and a lefty running floater and uses shot fakes to clear his defender out of the way for short lean-in jumpers to finish from the in-between area – having hit on 15 of his 26 two-pointers away from the basket.
Young passes ahead to speed up the pace of the game and is willing to give up the ball when the opponent traps him at mid-court. With him at the wheel, Oklahoma ranks third in the country in possessions per game.
He can make the skip pass to a stretch big in the pick-and-pop and pass across his body to the opposite end of the court off dribble penetration. He’s has also proven himself able to make wraparound passes in traffic to a shooter in opposite corner or a big man close by. And though he is not that tall, Young can pass over the top as well thanks to very good court vision.
He struggles some against traps and physical defenders but Young is turning it over on just 15.9% of his possessions, which is an acceptable cost for doing business with his 55.1% assist rate and his 38.1% usage rate.
Young is a poor individual defender as of this point. He hunches rather than bend his knees getting down in a space and doesn’t slide laterally multiple times, often getting easily blown by at the point of attack.
With that as the case, Oklahoma hides him as often as it can and as a team defender, Young does enough within reason. He is often flat-footed off the ball but executes the scheme as a weak-side helper, rotating in to pick up the roll man regularly.
Young is not an explosive leaper and lacks length to contest shots effectively near the basket but can make a positive impact of some sort by simply being another body the opponent has to navigate in a tight space.
He’s also shown some instincts making plays in the passing lanes and pitches in on the defensive glass – averaging 2.4 steals per 40 minutes and collecting 10% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor.
His closeouts sprinting back to the perimeter are poor and he easily gives up straight line drives off the dribble, though.
When he’s had to inevitably defend on the ball, Young has shown a few impressive efforts in pick-and-roll defense here and there. He is attentive enough to ice the ball handler away from the middle of the floor and has four blocks this season coming from behind after fighting over the pick.
Young lacks the physical traits to be an impact player on this end. But Oklahoma has shown it’s very possible to hide him and he has shown he can execute enough in order not to compromise a healthy scheme. His defensive rating ranks third on the team among rotation players and the Sooners rank 38th in the country in adjusted defensive rating, while Young has averaged 32.9 minutes per game.
 DOB: 9/19/1998
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara